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Laurie Niles

April 5, 2005 at 7:07 AM

Well, I'm not going to do it.

I'm not going to audition for the LA Phil this year.

I jumped through all the hoops: I applied, I got the same letter as last year, offering that I could audition on a stand-by basis (which is what I did last year). I sent in the next application for that, got the list, ordered the music, received the special music from the LA Phil that was not available to buy, I started marking in fingerings...

Then I took out my old Mozart 39. And I just couldn't do it.

To back up, I've moved rather a lot in the last 10 years, and in my travels across the U.S., I've auditioned for many orchestras. Many. The ones I can think of off the top of my head: the Omaha Symphony, Lincoln Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Colorado Springs Symphony (four times before I finally got in), the Greeley Philharmonic, the Central City Opera, the Boulder Philharmonic, the LA Chamber Orchestra (twice), the Redlands Symphony, the Pasadena Symphony, the New West Symphony, the Pacific Symphony, the LA Philharmonic.

I know I'm leaving out some of them, too. I won a good number of these auditions, played in most of these orchestras. I really love to play in the orchestra; it is insanity, but I love it. I want to play in a really, really good one.

But Mozart 39.

There are certain orchestral excerpts that one plays over and over and over when doing these auditions. I have played them so many times, I could play them in my sleep, standing on my head, possibly balancing on a beach ball a la Cat in the Hat.

Can I play Mozart 39 any better now? Better than I did last year? Or at the audition before that? Or before that? Or before that?

The answer, I have to admit, is no.

I have practiced it to death. In all its permutations, in every meter, with every kind of rhythm. When I looked at it again, I just wanted to cry. What more can I do?

Then I realized, the only thing I can do has nothing to do with taking an audition. The only thing I can do is become a better musician.

I caught a glimpse of how to do that last year, when my students were giving a recital, and I decided to play my Tchaikovsky first movement for it, too. Suddenly, I knew I'd be playing the whole thing, start to finish, for real people, not just the first page for people behind a screen. I cared about it in a different way, and I wanted to play it just for the fun of playing it. My good friend, Lorenz, who I respect a great deal and find to be a very intelligent musician, was kind enough to listen to me play it. He gave me such good advice, I really enjoyed delving deeper into it.

Then after I performed it, I felt marvelous. It was in my memory, in my fingers, something I wondered if I'd ever do. And yes, I did it in my 30s, juggling family, students, work and life.

It made me think about all the things I haven't played yet and still want to play before I'm six feet under. I have quite a lot of technique, a good head on my shoulders, why stop where I'm at?

The project that has nagged me ever since leaving college is finishing all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, of which I studied four as a student. I have such respect for these works, I was afraid to just ... play them, with no advice!

My friend Lorenz told me to give it a go, work it out, then play for him. So I have delved into the C major Sonata, like a student. It took me forever just to pore over several editions and decide which bowings to use, then which fingerings, then, Lord, just to play it. And it still isn't there, nowhere near. It needs a ton of work. Lorenz gave me some really nice advice, and I feel inspired. I want to do it well.

I believe this is the only way to grow. And in order to take any more steps, I need to grow.

What I have in my violin playing is not a seed, as it is in my young students. It's a big plant. Probably a quirky one, too, that leaned this way for a little sun, and has a funny little shoot going that way, and a crooked stem. Quite possibly some dead leaves! It still needs sunlight. Good soil. Water. But mine, at this point, it needs bigger pot!

Maybe even some Miracle Gro!

From Nancy Foreman
Posted on April 5, 2005 at 7:33 AM
much respect to Laurie & yes
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 5, 2005 at 7:34 AM
Maybe you should audition anyway? I don't know what a stand-by audition is, beyond what it sounds like it might be. I don't know if not passing hurts your chances there down the road, but you do. I'm not familiar with the 39th by name, but I would probably recognize it. Listen to your favorite recording of it and try to pull together what you do and what you hear. Take a few lessons from some L.A. Phil member who's willing to just teach you the 39th. Good luck. I want to be able to ask advice from someone in the L.A. Phil :)
From Ben Clapton
Posted on April 5, 2005 at 8:48 AM
I don't know why, but i think it should be every violinists goal (if it isn't already) to at least be able to play through all of the bach s&p's. You don't need to get them up to performance standard, but they are invaluable. And to want to learn them as much as you do, I say go for it.

Also, learn. Find your local music library and get books out and read them. Or buy them on-line. It seems that you've been doing music for ages, but quite often we've only just scratched the surface. Find a topic that interests you and learn all there is to learn about it. Then that will lead you to another topic - so learn all there is to know about that.

Mozart 39 threw me off at my last audition. Made me not want to audition for them ever again. I might... one day...

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 5, 2005 at 9:02 AM
Laurie, I understand how you and Ben feel about the Bach S&P. They are sublime. Just to be able to play them would be like heaven. Even trying to play them puts me in touch with the Divine. They are fresh and exciting to you now, and I suspect they always will be.
From Christian Vachon
Posted on April 5, 2005 at 11:03 AM

Way to go! I wish every violinist had that attitude. I think that the will to become better every single day is essential. My project some day also involves 6, but all six Ysaŷe solo sonatas (I only know 3 or them).


From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on April 5, 2005 at 2:56 PM
I say that if playing orchestrally is stagnating your desire to learn and grow, then don't do it. We need to keep music exciting within us...for real. Not just with cliches for students and performances for cash. If taking time away from the symphony and auditioning to broaden your rep. and dig into the details of a piece...really study it and do something new and old at the same you that drive and excitement for your art, then do it! Different things challenge us at different times in our lives. Right now auditions challenge me because it is a new thing and I've been taking apart music on my own and with a teacher for a long time. I'm sure that with the years it will be cyclical.
From Jenni Thompson
Posted on April 5, 2005 at 7:22 PM
I love that you are a teacher and a performer. It's one of the things that I highly respect about my own teacher, and I plan to do the same juggling act when I'm established. Definitely, definitely, keep going. Don't ever stop growing. When I get bored with a piece of music, when I don't think I can play it any differently, I go back to the basics, when I first learned it. I try to analyze it as if I was someone else, some one who had never seen it before. Or, I try to analyze how I would teach it. And, often times, I come up with some ideas completely different than what I had been playing for years. Ooh, another fun thing is trying to play it backwards with a metronome :)
From Benjamin Eby
Posted on April 5, 2005 at 7:44 PM
If it makes you feel any better, Mozart 39 has been a bugaboo for me too. In the last orchestral audition I had I screwed it up...something about the key combined with the tempo combined with the articulation is just awkward. Perhaps there is something in Sevcik Op. 1 that would help. I know that Eric Eichhorn of the Cleveland Orchestra swears by bk. 1...practices it every day.


From Willie M
Posted on April 6, 2005 at 12:04 AM
Why is this piece so tough?
From Marty Dalton
Posted on April 6, 2005 at 4:21 AM
Question: When you do auditions for major orchestras how much of the concert do you play? I did an audition in Oklahoma City a few years ago and I only had to play 4 minutes of my concerto. Just wondering what the "bigger" groups do.
From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on April 6, 2005 at 6:48 AM
Is winning an LA Phil audition more lucrative than a busy studio?
From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 6, 2005 at 6:43 AM
Wow, thanks for your comments, everybody!

Nancy, thank you!

Jim, I've done auditions under all kinds of undesirable conditions: six months pregnant, sick with a cold, consumed with nerves and crying, etc. etc. Also, under good circumstances: confident, in control. But this time around, my entire being is rebelling against it, telling me I need to do something new!

Ben, I feel the same way! And yes, Mozart 39 throws everybody off, we are not alone.

Pauline, I love the S and P's, too. The deeper one delves into them, the more beautiful they get. Musical and intellectual gems.

Christian, good luck with your project! Those are wonderful pieces, too!

Jennifer, you said it so well. That's just how I feel about it. And yes, for years, taking auditions actually helped me grow and play better. I've just been doing it too long!

Jenni, your teacher is awesome in every way! Cheryl is a wonderful teacher, mother and violinist. A very good role model!

Benjamin, well, I didn't try the Sevcik, but next time I pull out this excerpt....Yes, a bugaboo!

Willie, Mozart 39 is deceptively tough. Why? It requires one to play technically awkward passages but make them seem easy. Also, it requires a level of musical sophistication and eloquence to put across the right style.

Marty, last year when I tried out for LA Phil, it was nothing but orchestral excerpts for the first round, though we were required to prepare a Mozart and romantic concerto. The higher rounds (which I did not get to) required more of the concertos. I'd say it varies wildly, depending on the orchestra and the particular committee that day. At one audition I had to play the entire first movement of my Mozart concerto, which I did from memory. I got in. I'd recommend knowing the whole movement of the concerto by memory for any orchestral audition.

Everyone, thank you! Your support meant so much last year, when I actually did this crazy audition, and a lot right now, too!

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 6, 2005 at 2:08 PM
You said something once about wanting to play in a John Williams soundtrack. I found this photo by Anne Leibowitz that I love. Maybe it will inspire you to new heights.


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